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Steve Bennett blogs

…about maps, open data, Git, and other tech.

Cycletour.org: a better map for Australian cycle tours


Cycletour.org is a tool for planning cycle tours in Australia, and particularly Victoria. I made it because Google Maps is virtually useless for this: poor coverage in the bush and inappropriate map styling make cycle tour planning a very frustrating experience.

Let’s say we want to plan a trip from Warburton to Stratford, through the hills. This is what Google Maps with “bicycling directions” offers:

Google Maps - useless for planning cycle tours.

Google Maps – useless for planning cycle tours.

Very few roads are shown at this scale. Unlike motorists, we cyclists want to travel long distances on small roads. A 500 kilometre journey on narrow backstreets would be heaven on a bike, and a nightmare in a car. So you need to see all those roads when zoomed out.

Worse, small towns such as Noojee, Walhalla and Woods point are completely missing!

Enter Cycletour.org:

Screenshot 2015-01-09 18.03.59

You can plan a route by clicking a start and end, then dragging the route around:

Screenshot 2015-01-13 23.43.12

It doesn’t offer safe or scenic route selection. The routing engine (OSRM) just picks the fastest route, and doesn’t take hills into account. You can download your route as a GPX file, or copy a link to a permanent URL.

Cartography

The other major features of cycletour.org’s map style are:

Screenshot 2015-01-09 18.12.04Bike paths are shown prominently. Rail trails (old train lines converted into bike paths) are given a special yellow highlighting as they tend to be tourist attractions in their own right.

Train lines (in green) are given prominence, as they provide transport to and from trips.

 

 

Screenshot 2015-01-09 18.20.23Towns are only shown if there is at least one food-related amenity within a certain distance. This is by far the most important information about a town. Places that are simply “localities” with no amenities are relegated to a microscopic label.

 

 

Screenshot 2015-01-09 18.27.40Major roads are dark gray, progressing to lighter colours for minor roads. Unsealed roads are dashed. Off-road tracks are dashed red lines. Tracks that are tagged “four-wheel drive only” have a subtle cross-hashing.

And of course amenities Screenshot 2015-01-09 18.57.40useful to cyclists are shown: supermarkets, campgrounds, mountain huts, bike shops, breweries, wineries, bakeries, pubs etc etc. Yes, well-supplied towns look messy, but as a user, I still prefer having more information in front of me.

Terrain

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.11.23The terrain data is a 20 metre-resolution digital elevation model from DEPI, within Victoria, trickily combined with a 90m DEM elsewhere, sourced from SRTM (NASA). I use TileMill‘s elevation shading feature, scaled so that sea level is a browny-green, and the highest Australian mountains (around 2200m) are white, with green between. 20-metre contours are shown, labelled at 100m intervals.

I’m really happy with how it looks. Many other comparable maps have either excessively dark hill shading, or heavy contours – or both.

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.21.02

4UMaps

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.20.35

Komoot

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.20.24

OpenCycleMap

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.20.15

Sigma

Mapbox Outdoors

Google Maps (terrain mode)

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.35.37

MapBox Outdoors

 

Other basemaps

Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.39.25

VicMap

I’ve included an assortment of common basemaps, including most of the above. But the most useful is perhaps VicMap, because it represents a completely different data source: the government’s official maps.

Layers

Vegetation

Vegetation

There are also optional overlays. Find a good spot to stealth camp with the vegetation layer.

Or avoid busy roads with the truck volume layer. This data comes from VicRoads.Screenshot 2015-01-09 19.47.43

The bike shops layer makes contingency planning a bit easier, by making bike shops visible even when zoomed way out. The data is OpenStreetMap, so if you know of a bike shop that’s missing (or one that has since closed down), please update it so everyone can benefit.

Screenshot 2015-01-14 00.06.20

Mobile

Unfortunately, the site is pretty broken on mobile. But you can download the tiles for offline use on your Android phone using the freemium app Maverick. It works really well.

Other countries

Screenshot 2015-01-14 00.46.05

is.cycletour.org for Iceland. Yes, it’s real – but I don’t know how long I will maintain it.

It’s a pretty major technical undertaking to run a map for the whole world. I’ve automated the process for setting up cycletour.org as much as possible, and created my own version for Iceland and England when I travelled there in mid 2014. If you’re interested in running your own, get in touch and I’ll try to help out.

 

 

 

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from anyone that uses cycletour.org to plan a trip. Ideas? Thoughts? Bugs? Suggestions? Send ’em to stevage@gmail.com, or on Twitter at @Stevage1.

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5 responses to “Cycletour.org: a better map for Australian cycle tours

  1. Tanya Bosch January 19, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Steve, I am a member of the Bike packing Facebook page and was interested to read your post. Haven’t ever seriously mapped anything except making botches of it I had a go at a section of the BNT we are planning to ride soon. I couldn’t stop it from making extra loops as seen on the link bit.ly/1EgO140 Any hints? I really appreciate this and am determined to this a go!

    • Alex January 26, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      The problem in your example is that the routing engine doesn’t let bicycle travel on motorways. The crossing of the motorway (highway) is classed as a motorway link and therefore it won’t route over it. It may be possible to fix this case.

      FWIW, the routing engine isn’t great. It just picks the shortest path, without regard for the road type or quality. Still a useful tool to help plan trips.

      • Tanya Bosch January 27, 2015 at 10:17 am

        Thanks for that. I will try somewhere else that is relatively easy to map that doesn’t involve the Freeway! I found the routing good being able to drag the route where you wanted. Anyway I will let you know. Thanks

  2. bohwaz March 5, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    It’s just great. One thing would be awesome it’s that if you wanted directions between two points near a rail trail or something like the Mawson Trail or the Munda Biddi, would be to have an alternative route using the trail. But well I don’t think that OSRM can do that.

  3. Kate J. June 15, 2016 at 12:17 am

    Hi there! If you need to plan a route or way point, maybe you’ll find http://gpx2kml.com/ to be a useful and free converter. It can easily convert gpx to kml and vice versa, when needed.

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